Cruschi Fried Dried Aromatic Crunchy Peppers
In the area of Lucania in the southern region of Basilicata, locals refer to these nutty, aromatic peppers as cruschi.
Peperone di Senise are a local, I.G.P. Basilicata sweet pepper variety, which are up to six inches in length. They are harvested throughout the sweltering summer months—from the end of July until the end of September—when they are perfectly ripe, hanging heavy on the plant, and turning a deep red color with a glossy shine.
Harvesting is labor intensive, as the peppers are picked entirely by hand, placed in large baskets, and brought by foot to a large shed. They are strung into large wreaths (called serte) and placed into open-walled sheds to dry for 20-25 days. When the peppers are dry and wrinkled, the wreaths are carefully dismantled by hand and the peppers are fried in local olive oil until the skin is brick red with a crispy texture. The peppers are then packed and stored for use over the winter months in many different ways.
These aromatic, crunchy peppers bring a new complexity of flavors to winter greens, braised and roasted meats. Crushed in your hands, they make the best topping for any seafood pasta dish. Cruschi are often coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle and sprinkled over eggs fried in olive oil. They also add incredible flavor to the classic spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers).
Rolando raves: "Do like the locals and pop them like potato chips. Perfect with a glass of wine before dinner."
This hearty pasta, featuring Rustichella d'Abruzzo PrimoGrano Sagne a Pezzi, is the kind of dish you'll be craving once the leaves change color and the weather starts to turn. Recipe developed by our friend Sara Jenkins, chef and owner of Porchetta and Porsena, and cookbook author: Olives and Oranges and The Four Seasons of Pasta, co-written with her mother, Nancy Jenkins.
- Serves: 6
- Complexity: easy
- 10–12 sage leaves
- 3 tablespoons Rustichella d'Abruzzo Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Italian-style sausages (about 1/2 pound)
- 2 teaspoons Wild Fennel Pollen
- Pinch of crushed Sun-Dried Cruschi Peppers or red pepper flakes (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 1/2 cups coarsely chopped firm, orange-fleshed squash
- 1 package Rustichella d'Abruzzo PrimoGrano Sagne a Pezzi
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Set aside 5 of the largest sage leaves to crisp in oil and use for garnish. Chop the rest to make 1–2 tablespoons chopped sage.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, then add onion and garlic. Remove sausage meat from their casings and as soon as onion and garlic start to sizzle, crumble sausage into the saucepan. Let the sausage meat cook briefly, tossing and stirring, until it has rendered out its fat. When it is no longer pink, stir in chopped sage. If using fennel pollen and/or pepper flakes, add now.
Bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a rolling boil.
Add squash to the saucepan and turn up the heat to medium-high. Cook until squash is soft, cooked through, and some pieces are beginning to disintegrate. Keep the sauce simmering over low heat while the pasta cooks.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small saucepan over high heat and add reserved whole sage leaves. Sauté, turning, until the leaves are crisp, then remove to a paper towel to drain.
When the water is boiling vigorously, add pasta, return to a boil and cook just a few minutes. When pasta is al dente, stir a ladleful of pasta water into the sausage-squash sauce. Drain pasta and pour it into a warm serving bowl. Add the sauce, along with grated parmigiano, and toss. Garnish with chopped parsley and finally with the crisp fried sage leaves. Serve immediately, passing more grated cheese around the table.
Products Used in This Recipe